RAFairman's Blog

An RAF Airman's Blog

The Shock of Capture…

This may be a new phrase to you. The ‘shock of capture’. You might know what this means, but you might never have heard it before. But I have just spent the week in an almost permanent state of ‘shock of capture’. What a week it has been.

Just to remind irregular or new readers, I have left RAF Benson, my ‘home unit’ and have been attached to a Joint Service Organisation called the Military Stabilisation Support Group. The job of this unit is to establish peace and security in countries affected by conflict and other forms of instability. The MSSG works in various places all over the world, but right now, it’s prime focus is, of course, Afghanistan.

The idea behind it is that the Military can go into places that are a bit more dangerous than those that civilian and government agencies can go into. We have the skills to venture into the more…well, you know. Those areas of the world, and specifically areas of Afghanistan, that the civilian departments just can’t go to – it’s just too dangerous. In those places we help the locals carry out projects to improve their own locality. They do the work, we just provide the help so they can, basically help themselves.

But in the meantime, here I am. In training for that role. It’s 4 months worth of training, on both the hard and soft skills we need to have before we go and spend 6 months in a war zone, starting in the spring next year. Not only have I been learning about the deployment, but I’ve also been learning about the Army way of doing things, which, for an RAF airman, is a bit strange. It’s got a different language and a subtly different ethos and way of doing things. Not bad, just different, and that can take a bit of learning. But it’s added to that shock of capture I was talking about. It’s just something else to push that old comfort zone a bit more.

But now, that first week is now over. It’s been a sharp – nearly cliff faced – learning curve. It has perfectly defined what the shock of capture actually is. It is the realisation of the reality of the situation you have just, suddenly, gotten yourself into. It’s a realisation that things are massively different to how they were just a few hours ago, and that things will be different for a while to come.

It’s almost been like going back to school at times. We’ve been briefed so many times this week I have lost count; briefings from what the course will contain through to guest speakers who have worked in Stabilisation or who have recently returned from their own Ops out there.

To be honest, they can’t brief us enough. I am like a sponge right now. I am note taking like a madman, probably writing too much and taking too many notes (if one can do such a thing). And then there’s the evening work, and the Physical Training sessions we have had as well. It’s been tiring, but…you know what? I’ve not felt so fulfilled by a weeks work for a very long time.

This is a massive change from my normal job of sitting in an office and arguing with a PowerPoint presentation, or having a meeting, or looking after the block. One of the sessions this week was a very in-depth brief of the areas that we will be going to and working in. Of course I am not going to say where, when or who, but needless to say, they don’t call Helmand the ‘most dangerous place in the world’ for no reason. Today, I learnt about the area where insurgents and the Taliban have their bases, near to where I’ll be working and living, and normally, I’d be discussing who, in the block I look, after is going to pick up the toilet rolls. It’s a huge culture change and a bigger culture shock.

I came out of that brief today and just swore. What have I gotten myself into? The full enormity of the task, the geography, the weather, the people, the enemy had been laid bare. No punches had been pulled. It was all a real time brief of what it is like out there right now. I thought of what it might be like out there. And then of my girl-friend and my kids. My family – brothers and sisters…and then…I realised something.

That is exactly why we are there. It is a dangerous place, and it’s dangerous for others as well as us. It’s dangerous for the locals who live there. And like us they deserve to live in a place that is free from intimidation, in peace and to have a chance at prosperity. So that’s what we are there to do. It’s to help make the country safe. It’s to help out a population that has had nothing for so many years…

And to do that will take some hard work. And I want to be part of that hard work. Just imagine to be able to be part of that work. To do something that will actually improve someones life. To change their life for the better…I suppose it’s an opportunity at a form of redemption for everything I have ever done, some of which I am not so proud of.

But in the meantime, I am working off my ‘shock of capture’. Discussing things with the others on the course is a good way of doing it, as is just reflecting on what we are going to do, and the good work we are going to be able to do over there.

Whilst the training course has caused that shock of capture, there is no point in sugar coating anything, it’s also helped, as it has gone on to ease that shock. We need to know all about it out there so we are well prepared for it. So we can do our job to the very best of our ability.

It’s been a tiring week, as I said, but it’s been fantastic, and has really helped to get it clear just what we need to learn and what we need to be able to do to make a difference. And if the fulfilment I have at just the end of one weeks training is anything go go by, then coming back from a six month deployment out there is going to be huge.

I can’t wait for it.



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